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24th Marine Expeditionary Unit deploys with Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, starts journey across Atlantic

US Marine Corps News

By 24th MEU Public Affairs Office, 24th MEU

OFF THE COAST OF NORTH CAROLINA -- The 2,300 Marines and Sailors of the Camp Lejeune-based 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit are headed across the Atlantic on a scheduled eight-month deployment to serve as a theater reserve and crisis response force in support of the U.S. European, Africa and Central Commands.

The 24th MEU spent the week embarking aboard amphibious assault ships of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, which include the USS Iwo Jima, USS Gunston Hall and the USS New York, a new ship built with steel from the World Trade Center which is deploying on its maiden voyage.

The Marines began loading personnel at Norfolk Naval Base, Va., and completed their embark operations by using the Morehead City Port facility; flying their aircraft onto the ships straight from Marine Corps Air Stations New River and Cherry Point; and by using Navy hovercrafts to load personnel and equipment from the beach at Camp Lejeune.

The 24th MEU is deploying after completing an extensive, six-month training cycle that has tested the ability of the unit to perform a wide range of missions as a Marine Air Ground Task Force. The commanding officer of the 24th MEU, Col. Frank Donovan, says that he is confident his Marines are prepared and ready to be called on.

“We want our higher headquarters, the nation and our international partners to have the confidence to employ the ARG/MEU team as an expeditionary task force, and have the confidence to consider the art of the “possible” when it comes to our employment,” said Donovan.

As a crisis response force the 24th MEU and its Navy counterparts of the Iwo Jima ARG are prepared to conduct a variety of mission including full-scale combat, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and evacuation operations.

The 24th MEU has been actively engaged in crisis response during their past few deployments. In 2006 they participated in the evacuation of American citizens from Lebanon. In 2009 the 24th MEU deployed straight to Afghanistan where they lead an opening offensive against the Taliban in the Helmand province. On their most recent deployment in 2010 the 24th MEU participated in earthquake relief operations in Haiti during Operation Unified Response.

When not responding to such crises a key mission for the team will be conducting theater security cooperation exercises with partnered nations. Theater security cooperation exercises allow the U.S. to engage, train with, and learn from various nations throughout the world.

“We don’t look at foreign engagement as an opportunity for others to learn from us; we look at it as an opportunity for our Marines to learn from others,” said Donovan. “The second part of foreign engagement is that the better we know our partners, the easier it is to respond to crises because we’ll have additional friends in the region who we can partner with to solve problems. We’re looking forward to learning about other cultures and operating in new environments.”

One of the 24th MEU’s first scheduled events is to participate in Exercise African Lion, a bi-lateral exercise between U.S. and Moroccan forces that will include various types of military training and visits with Moroccan military partners.

As they travel throughout their deployment the Marines and Sailors may also have the opportunity to conduct port stops in the Mediterranean and Middle East where service members will be allowed off the ships to sight see, conduct community relations projects and visit other countries.

“Port stops are a chance for our young Marines and Sailors to serve as ambassadors of the United States. It’s another great opportunity for us to learn about other cultures and for our young men and women to see parts of the world they may never have the chance to visit on their own,” said Donovan.

Regarding future MEU missions, Donovan said that “everything we do has to continue to build on our foundations and continue to bolster our senior leaders trust and confidence. When a Geographic Combatant Commander knows he has a fully-trained MEU that is ready to go, the chance of employment is higher. Whether it’s theater security or crisis response, we’re ready.”

The 24th MEU’s major subordinate units include: Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, Second Marine Regiment; Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 (Reinforced); and Combat Logistics Battalion 24. As a complete Marine Air Ground Task Force the MEU brings with it a compliment of aircraft centered around an MV-22 Osprey Squadron, and also includes Cobra and Huey attack helicopters, Harrier jets all of which are embarked on ship. A C-130 transport and refueling unit will pre-position at land bases throughout the world to support the MEU. The MEU also brings a variety of ground equipment and capabilities that include an assortment of vehicles, tanks, assault amphibious vehicles, water purification, explosive ordnance disposal and organic medical capability.

“We have a great team, and we’re ready to push our amphibious, expeditionary capability to the next level. We’re ready to do the job – and that job can be anything, anywhere in the world,” concluded Donovan.

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